About this blog

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... The A-Team.

This was the introduction to one of the great TV series of the eighties. The purpose of this blog is to build up the definitive episode guide to the show across its five seasons which ran from 1983 to 1987. So this isn't too much of a burden, I'm intending to watch a couple of episodes a week and given that there were around 100 episodes made during its run, this will turn into a year-long project!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The End

And so, almost one year and nearly a hundred episodes later, this episode guide blog is complete. For the record, here (in season order) are my favourite A-Team episodes:

Till Death Us Do Part (S1)
A Nice Place to Visit (S1)
The White Ballot (S2)
Battle of Bel Air (S2)
Say It with Bullets (S2)
Chopping Spree (S2)
Bullets and Bikinis (S3)
Breakout (S3)
The Sound of Thunder (S4)
Trial by Fire (S5)

Those are the ten I could never tire of watching, honorable mentions also go to these other favourites:
Pros and Cons (S1)
West Coast Turnaround (S1)
Black Day at Bad Rock (S1)
One More Time (S1)
Holiday in the Hills (S1)
The Taxicab Wars (S2)
Harder Than It Looks (S2)
Deadly Manuevers (S2)
Curtain Call (S2)
Fire! (S3)
Showdown (S3)
Bounty (S3)
Mind Games (S4)
Duke of Whispering Pines (S4)
Dishpan Man (S5)
Firing Line (S5)
Alive at Five (S5)
Family Reunion (S5)

Without Reservations s5ep13

Co-starring: Marc Alaimo as Angelo, Edward Bell as Lou, Lonny Chapman as Henderson, Alfred Dennis as Sal, Bobby DiCenzo as Joey
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by John Peter Kousakis

Frankie and Face dine at a restaurant where Murdock is a waiter but are caught in the middle of a mafia hit.

Although this was the final episode of The A-Team to air, it was not intended as such when it was filmed. Murdock’s T-shirt gives away the fact that this should have been “almost fini”, as distinct from the “fini” T-shirt he wore in ‘The Grey Team’. The episode was not broadcast when the final season originally aired in the US and in subsequent airings and the dvd releases of the show, it is listed as the last episode.

If the opening action scene looks a little familiar and the cast look a little young, it is because it is lifted in its entirety from the start of ‘Holiday in the Hills’ (hence no Frankie). The reason for this addition isn’t entirely clear and could be either because the episode ran short as shot or than it is otherwise driven by drama rather than action.

The story takes place almost entirely in a restaurant set but the stakes are raised when, for one of the few occasions in the show’s entire run, a main character is shot. It is quite a shocking scene (as long as you don’t know its coming!) and it is this subplot that gives the episode its impetus.

It is well-acted and Schultz (who became the show’s key asset in season five) gives a particularly strong performance. The overall progression of the story is interesting story but it is also very low-key and could have basically been written for any television show of the day. Time is spent, often unnecessarily, on the supporting characters but given that there are 45 minutes to fill you would expect some degree of padding.

Overall, it’s perfectly watchable and a pleasant enough conclusion to the show but it is hardly representative of what the A-Team was all about. A different episode is good as a change but it is a shame the show didn’t get the proper sign-off episode it deserved. 6/10

The Grey Team s5ep12

Co-starring: Lew Ayres as Bernie Greene, John McLiam as George Nemcheck, Michael Shannon as Randy Anderson, Tony Steedman as Saroff, Moya Kordich as Paula Anderson
Written by Tom Blomquist
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team look for a girl who has run away with a briefcase containing military secrets.

There were a lot of below-par episodes during the run of the show and some which were downright dreadful. Having watched every episode of every season for this blog, I think this horrible mess is the show’s nadir.

As bad as previous episodes may have got, they always had some enjoyable elements. Here, though, it is difficult to identify anything that makes it worth sitting through this one. There is a modicum of humour in Murdock’s relationship with a Russian spy but even that comes across as a poorer version of his spy persona from ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’.

One of the key problems is that as much attention is given to the residents of a retirement home (where the runaway girl is hiding out) as it is to the main team. This often reduces the main cast to playing supporting roles in their own show (a similar situation occurred when the dreadful ‘Body Slam’ became the BA & Hulk Hogan show).

The team are split up for most of the story and although Face & Hannibal make a reasonable team, BA and Frankie do not. Lew Ayres is a good actor but he isn’t given much to do and Kordich (as the teenage runaway) is hardly an asset, delivering her dialogue in a voice that manages to be both croaky and whiny at the same time.

Any episode in which there is a scene of elderly people doing aerobics was never going to be a classic but it gets worse, particularly the repetition of a truly awful song about never being too old. It really is appalling and the number of times it keeps coming back will have you reaching for the remote control.

A chase sequence with an old person driving a bus (accompanied by that awful song) and one car jump stunt (that doesn’t make any sense) is the sum total of the show’s action. By the end, it becomes clear that the episode is unique by A-Team standards. It’s one without any highlights at all.

Although not the final episode broadcast, this was intended to be the show’s last episode. This is not actually dealt with until the closing scene, unless you count Murdock wearing a ‘Fini’ T-shirt throughout. In this last scene, Frankie is dragged off to leave the four original members of the team thinking about what’s going to happen to them when Stockwell’s missions are complete. It’s not a bad scene by any means and suggests they would carry on fighting against villains and mobsters as they did before.

Only this reasonable final scene stops me from awarding the episode one out of ten. It really is that bad. I’ll defend season five against many of the criticisms but you can’t defend the indefensible. You would expect so much more from the final A-Team episode but we can at least be thankful that the delay in broadcasting ‘Without Reservations’ means that is considered to be the final episode and is a more worthy sign-off for the show. 2/10

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Spy Who Mugged Me s5ep11

Co-starring: Karen Kapins as Dominique Conre, Kai Wulff as Krueger, Marianne Marks as Miss Trench, Roy Dotrice as Charles Jourdan, Toru Tanaka as Frobe
Written by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

Murdock poses as a secret agent in an effort to capture a criminal known as ‘Jaguar’.

This is very much a one-joke episode but gets by thanks to an enjoyably lightweight tone and the fact that the one joke does work very well. It's a James Bond parody of course and besides the plot, the episode spends most of its time parodying and referencing the 007 movies.

The supporting characters are all named after characters or actors who have been in the Bond films. Traditional 007 scenes come thick and fast with the face-off over cards at the casino, shaken not stirred drinks, Dom Perignon champagne and an Oddjob-type heavy. It is Goldfinger and Octopussy that the episode references most, though there are elements of so many Bond movies that if you're not a fan, then it would be become rather tired rather quickly.

Frankly though, who doesn't like 007, particularly when he is being played by Murdock. The whole episode is anchored around Schultz's Sean Connery impression and it is very funny. It's a dead-on parody from the moment Murdock first appears in a sharp suit and says "later, perhaps" to a flirtatious receptionist asking if there is anything else she can do for him. Of course, there is a beautiful girl who is initially on the arm of the villain but eventually falls for the charms of Ross, Logan Ross.

The mystery over the real identity of Jaguar is not quite as obvious as it may appear and the twists and turns of the plot help keep things ticking over. Thankfully, the plot isn't all parody and the shift focuses to the story and requisite action in the second half. There is further humour to be had in Face's exasperation at being turned down for the spy role and seeing Murdock have all the fun.

Compared to Murdock, the rest of the team are slumming it somewhat and only pop in from time to time but everyone gets their moment and even Frankie isn't annoying in this one. Overall, the episode may be a bit obvious and often untidy but given how entertaining it is, this really isn't much of an issue. Good fun. 8.5/10

The Crystal Skull s5ep10

Co-starring: Manu Tupou as Chief Sikahama, Barry Pierce, Sam Hiona as Chief Walekino, Peter Jacangelo as Brother Francisco, Jeffrey Alan Chandler
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team parachute onto an island and Murdock is mistaken for a god by local tribesmen.

It's a question asked between fans of any TV show: what is your favourite episode? Personally, I don't have one, I did try to come up with a list once but stopped once I got up to 20 favourites. Once that conversation is exhausted, attention may turn to the worst episode. As far as the A-Team is concerned, Body Slam would be a strong contender for me, Waste 'Em as well but with this shambles, we may have a winner.

It's an episode that lulls you into a false sense of security. The opening is a spirited one as the team make their escape by plane after acquiring the skull of the title. Then, after another outing for the aerial footage first seen in ‘Holiday in the Hills’, the team land on the island and the whole thing falls apart.

The story is certainly different by A-Team standards (think ‘Return of the Jedi’ with Murdock as C3PO and the tribesmen as the ewoks) but that doesn’t make it interesting. There's a suspicion that the whole episode was deliberately written to be made as cheaply as possible. Much of it takes place on beaches and the rest on sets previously seen to much better effect in the season four finale 'The Sound of Thunder'.

There are various plot threads running through the episode, one of which involves the possibility that the skull is cursed (which may be true given how dodgy 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull' was). There aren't many highlights to speak of and those that there are (Murdock walking on hot coals, his fight with the chief) are played out in slow motion in a desperate effort to add a sense of drama.

The pacing is plodding and often tedious in the extreme, causing the episode to feel much longer than the usual forty-five minutes. What is most interesting is that the chant of the natives has been changed to "who wrote this" in post-production (the answer is Bill Nuss, responsible for too many below par episodes). Fair play to the makers for acknowledging how unremittingly awful it is but that doesn't make it any more watchable.

Only audience goodwill and the efforts of the cast (who are still often left floundering) make it possible to sit through this to the end. Poor. 3/10

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Point of No Return s5ep9

Co-starring: Rosalind Chao as Alice Heath, Soon Tech-Oh, Dustin Nguyen as Bobby, Judith Ledford as Carla, Nancy Kwan as Lin Wu
Written by Burt Pearl
Directed by Robert Brauler

The team travel to Hong Kong to investigate Hannibal’s disappearance there while he was trading plutonium.

The writing team of Pearl and Sears didn’t exactly have a great record when it came to writing episodes for the show. However, Sears fared much better on his own when he delivered ‘Family Reunion’, so would it be expecting too much for Pearl to do the same?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. This is one of the least interesting episodes in the season, a rather stale and dull affair that improves in the later stages but challenges your patience for most of the first half hour. The key problem is that the script shows a lack of understanding for show dynamics, keeping the team split up for too long in one talky, set-bound scene after another.

The plot dictates that Hannibal should be missing for most of the running time (which doesn’t help) but it is also odd that BA is largely absent as well. For whatever reason, he is hardly in this one, though there have been attempts to cover up his absence, albeit not in a very convincing way. BA does get a fight scene late on but otherwise he is shown only in separately filmed inserts or as a double shot from behind (with dialogue added later). His absence in some scenes is excused because he is “covering the perimeter”, “in position” or “examining evidence”.

The whole episode is a bit of a fragmented shambles in all honesty, moving from one scene to the next as if it was made up on the morning of shooting rather than sufficiently in advance. Face and Murdock do most of the investigating initially with Frankie and Stockwell milling around in the background. It is this episode more than any other that shows up how much their characters were lacking compared to the main cast.

Scenes in which the team show their concern for the missing Hannibal add much-needed drama but not much sense of urgency to the episode. Occasionally there’s a bright bit of dialogue to wake you up, notably when Frankie and Murdock discuss possible radiation poisoning (“I wanted to have a family. Do you think we’ll be able to have children, Murdock?”, “I don’t know think I know you well enough”.)

There isn’t a great deal of action, generally just a few fistfights, one of which is undertaken by Vaughan, or rather by his much younger and slimmer stunt double. Things do brighten up a little in the final third and matters come to head with a shootout finale, though it’s one of those ridiculous ones (even by A-Team standards) in which hundreds of rounds are fired at close range without seeming to hit anything. 5/10

Family Reunion s5ep8

Co-starring: Jeff Corey as AJ Bancroft, Clare Kirkconnell as Ellen Bancroft, John Carter as Jacob Edwards, Terri Treas as “Ellen”, Beau Billingslea as Owens
Written by Steven L Sears
Directed by James Darren

The team protect a government witness who is returning to America with vital information and to see his daughter.

One of the best-remembered episodes from the fifth season, this is an always interesting attempt to combine the stock A-Team action elements with an involving character-based storyline.

The initial scene-setting has a comic tone as it turns out that Murdock has become too attached to the turkeys he has been tending to kill one for Thanksgiving (when this episode is set, emphasising the family storyline).

Once the team attempt to reunite father and daughter, the episode becomes an action-driven affair as they break her out and bring the two together (or so they think). It is at this point that the plot takes a key turn when it is revealed that the man the team are protecting claims to be Face’s father. Murdock discovers this at the same time as the audience, putting the character closet to Face in his most difficult dilemma.

The remainder of the episode is split between the main protection plot, scenes with the newly reunited but not entirely aware family and Murdock agonising over whether to tell Face. Bancroft, who has returned to America as he is dying, wants to tell Face the truth personally, something which Murdock decides to respect.

The one problem with the episode is that the two disparate elements never quite mix, there being a rather derivative pursuit element in the background that means constant shifts in tone between standard action and family drama. Although the two sides to the story never quite blend, there is enough happening to ensure the interest level remains high.

Both Benedict and Schultz give very strong performances and the scene in which Face argues with Murdock for not telling him sooner is one of the most genuinely affecting moments in any episode. This scene alone makes the episode well worth seeing, being built on the close bond their characters have developed over the course of five seasons.

It may not entirely work but all credit to the show for trying something very different to the norm. With episodes such as this, it is a shame the plug was pulled on the show before the 5th season had the opportunity to complete a full run. It demonstrates that the show could lend itself to more serious episodes which would have been more beneficial for the ratings than some of the silly episodes like ‘The Crystal Skull’ and ‘The Grey Team’. 9/10

Alive at Five s5ep7

Co-starring: Richard Romanus as Tommy Tedesco, Valerie Wildman as Sally Vogel, Red West as Brooks, Linden Chiles as Notting, Dennis Fimple as Cates
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team rescue a reporter who has infiltrated a mob outfit.

Although writer Nuss was responsible for some truly dreadful scripts during the show’s run, he makes up for some of those with this highly entertaining episode. The opening is a memorable one with Face having a nightmare in which everywhere he turns he sees Stockwell.

This scene becomes the jumping off point for Face deciding to leave the team and it initially seems like a real possibility. It doesn’t take long to develop into a running joke though and leads to a great exchange with Murdock about the art of scamming (Face: “Maybe I should write a book?”, Murdock: “No, just a pamphlet”).

There is something rather familiar about the story that unfolds here. In the same way that Nuss’ season four episode ‘Wheel of Fortune’ was reminiscent of ‘Bounty’, this one is very similar to season one’s ‘Till Death Us Do Part’. The team once again infiltrate a country estate to rescue a woman being held against her will, albeit disguised as firemen rather than caterers.

Like its predecessor, the rest of the episode is a chase and attempt to expose the truth, though there is an added race-against-time subplot to keep the pace ticking over nicely. Among the highlights are the complete destruction of a home by gunfire (as in “Say It With Bullets’) and a novel way of passing a roadblock set up by Tedesco’s associates.

The action is frequent and well integrated into the story and there’s also a good vein of humour running throughout. BA gets one of the best lines when he remarks to Hannibal, “do you expect me to turn the truck into a tank with spare parts from the kitchen?”

In many ways, this episode wouldn’t have looked out of place in season two and it is this classic A-Team style that makes it one of the highlights of the season. 9/10

The Say Uncle Affair s5ep6

Co-starring: David McCallum as Ivan Trigorin, James Saito as Kwai Li, Judith Ledford as Carla, Toni Attell as Reynolds, Eric Goldner as Borofsky
Written by Terry D Nelson
Directed by Eric Goldner

The team have to rescue General Stockwell when he is kidnapped by a former associate.

One of the better entries in the season, this is a well-plotted and very enjoyable episode that gets Stockwell more involved than simply assigning the mission and appearing for updates and a final debrief.

What is interesting is that the team’s motivation for rescuing Stockwell is not saving him but saving their pardon. Otherwise, as Frankie says, “we’ll be fugitives”. To which BA remarks, “you make me nostalgic”, something echoed among many fans not impressed by season five.

Initially the episode looks like an exercise in gimmick casting with the appearance of McCallum (Vaughan’s co-star from ‘The Man from UNCLE’). Unlike season four guest star episodes though, attention has been paid to the script and not just the casting.

There are occasional in-jokes and stylistic references to the ‘UNCLE’. The show is divided into acts and there are sixties-style scene transitions but these just add to entertainment value. The dialogue is a cut above as well, such as the exchange when an embassy henchman confronts Hannibal, “We have diplomatic immunity”, “Not from me!”

In terms of plotting, the episode is mainly made up of a series of infiltrations as the team attempt to track down Stockwell. The result is a very rapid-fire story that incorporates many great scenes, particularly the break-in to the Chinese Embassy and Murdock’s Frank Sinatra impersonation to get into a mental hospital. The latter shows off Schultz’s singing and performance skills and delivers the comic highlight.

It’s good to see Vaughan and McCallum go head-to-head in their scenes but all in service of the plot, there being no attempt to marginalize the team to make the most of the guest star as happened in season four. The final battle is a little clumsy but caps things off sufficiently well, concluding one of the most purely enjoyable of the season five individual episodes. 8/10

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Theory of Revolution s5ep5

Co-starring: Alejandro Rey as Commandant, Pepe Serna as Tomas Jefferson, Casulto Guerra as Martien, Geno Silva, Vladimiar Shomarovsky as Anatoly Terensky
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Sidney Hayes

The team are assigned to rescue three American hostages from a dictator on a South American island.

One of the more standard episodes in the fifth season, this uses the infiltration/capture/escape structure that had often been seen in the show during its run. The writing team of Sears & Pearl had been responsible for some rather weak episodes in the past (Knights of the Road, Trouble Brewing, Mission of Peace) so asking them to return for two more was perhaps not the best idea. The fact that their other contribution this season was ‘Point of No Return’ rather confirms this.

Although not a bad episode, this has a similar issue to the other Sears/Pearl stories in that the plot is too simplistic and soon falters due to a lack of development or interesting subplots. The very ABC structure does the episode no favours and neither does Frankie’s romance with a local girl. More time is spent planning than actually doing and while you’re waiting for things to kick up a gear, there isn’t really enough going on to sustain the interest.

It’s one of those episodes which feels derivative, even if you can’t quite remember which ones it reminds you of (though at times it feels like a throwback to the original pilot). After the initial four episodes of the season had suggested a bigger budget for the show, this one returns to old habits, being shot predominantly in scrubland around Los Angeles. The ending mainly recycles footage from the beginning and there’s a very familiar looking jeep flip stunt that was used frequently in season three.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on this one. There are highlights along the way though, particularly from an action perspective with the explosive prison escape and an excellent finale which is staged to the accompaniment of The Beatles song ‘Revolution’. Overall, not a dud by any means but too little happens for too long for this to be anything other than average. 6/10

Quarterback Sneak s5ep4

Co-starring: Joe Namath as TJ Bryant, Alan Autry as Mike Horn, Jim Brown as Steamroller, Bo Brundin as Dr Strasser, Judy Geeson as Marlena Strasser, Judith Ledford as Carla
Written by Paul Bernbaum
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team fly into East Berlin (just east of West Berlin!) to rescue a scientist, using the cover of playing a game of American Football against a local team.

The first individual episode of season five is a good one, built on a strong plot, a real attempt to establish a sense of location and a solid blend of action, comic and dramatic elements. The script by Bernbaum (who would go onto write ‘The Spy Who Mugged Me’ later in the season) is concise and to the point, getting through a lot of plot in forty five minutes and consequently ensuring a strong pace throughout.

It’s an episode rich in humour, using the age-old but still fun fish-out-of-water scenario as the team try to get Strasser, and a project he is working on, out from behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, Stockwell informs them that if they are discovered then they they will be abandoned and most likely be shot as spies, to which Murdock remarks, "It just makes you want to go out and buy war bonds doesn’t it?”

Given the number of American Football stars involved here, being a fan of the sport would help as the game takes up a large part of the later stages. The casting of real-life players isn’t as clumsy or awful as the guest star casting of the likes of Hulk Hogan in season four as, crucially, they aren’t playing themselves.

The action mainly takes place on sets but the episode escapes the cheap & restrictive feel of previous set-bound stories as an Eastern European location has been created on the backlot (presumably for another TV series?). The final game takes place in an empty stadium, something which the story makes excuses for but is preferable to trying to fake a large crowd.

Murdock carries the comic elements of the episode, taking his work as an underwear inspector out to East Berlin and being suspected by local authorities of being a spy. Face tries to get by with a German phrase book but ultimately has to rely on a travelling salesman joke to get him out of a tight spot (something that becomes a running gag during the episode).

There isn’t much padding here, though the game is elongated more than necessary by a pointless sequence in which Frankie uses an air rifle to shoot the ball out of the air. This aside, matters build to a strong fight and escape finish, all adding up to an episode which is solidly entertaining. 8.5/10

Friday, 6 May 2011

Firing Line s5ep3

Co-starring: Frank McCarthy, Judith Leadford as Carla, Rodney Saulsberry as Sergeant Reagar, John Darbin
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team try to escape from a maximum security stockade while awaiting execution for the murder of Colonel Morrison.

The final part of the court-martial trilogy is a worthy conclusion, providing the bridge between the first two episodes and the Stockwell missions that were to follow. The jail setting is naturally restrictive but writer Lupo manages to come with ways to get the story out and about and build action into the plot.

The episode gets off to a clever start with Face having a nightmare about facing the firing squad, complete with Hannibal in full aquamaniac costume. After this, the episode settles into a plot which cuts between the cells and Murdock’s attempts to arrange a breakout (further establishing the Murdock/Frankie rapport). The highlight (in terms of both action and drama) is when Hannibal tries to imagine an escape scenario but in spite of all the gunfire and explosions, it can only end in tragedy.

BA gets his own amusing premonition about what may happen come dawn on the day of execution and there's an amusing discussion amongst the condemned men about their last meal. It's a strong episode for Murdock as he shows his determination to help his friends, particularly in the confrontation on the plane with Stockwell.

The tension remains high as the execution looms, though the escape comes earlier than you might expect and an unnecessary action sequence is tacked onto the end. There are perhaps too many plot threads to resolve (and the subsequent working arrangements to set up) for this to be as free-flowing as it could have been.

A more definitive solution to what really happened in Vietnam would have been better than Stockwell's best guess but as untidy as the final third is, this remains a very enjoyable episode and is as essential viewing as the other parts of the trilogy. 9/10

Trial by Fire s5ep2

Co-starring: David Ackroyd as Major Laskov, Byrne Piven as Bennie Conway, Sandy McPeak as Josh Curtis, J.A. Preston as Judge, Dana Lee as Colonel Chun Van Quyet, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Tom Blomquist
Directed by Les Sheldon

Following their betrayal by Josh Curtis, the team stand trial for the murder of Colonel Morrison during the Vietnam War.

The second part of the court martial trilogy is an efficient and entertaining courtroom drama (with action asides) that is guaranteed to grip any fan of the show. After four seasons, we finally get to hear the details of the crime they didn’t commit and, ultimately, the truth behind them. The court setting ensures that this is a tense and dramatic affair as the team are in genuine jeopardy, something that distinguished such earlier episodes as ‘Curtain Call’ and ‘Deadly Manuevers’.

Being very much a character-driven episode, this relies greatly on its cast and Piven is particularly impressive as the team’s lawyer. It’s also a treat for fans to see Lance LeGault returning in a cameo to play Colonel Decker one last time.

As serious as the situation is, the episode still finds time for some good humour. One of the highlights is Murdock’s testimony in the case which begins as an elaborate action fantasy and culminates in an impression of Humphrey Bogart in ‘The Caine Mutiny’.

As a break from the courtroom, Murdock and Frankie become ‘Flying Nighthawk Commandos’ (complete with theme song!) and supply the action as they attempt to track down an important witness in the case. This subplot establishes Murdock and Frankie as a team and sets the scene for their relationship throughout the season.

A series of revelations about events in Vietnam (partly told in flashback) and also within the trying of the case ensure that the tension remains high throughout. A last-minute witness entrance is in true Perry Mason style and the episode ends on another dramatic cliffhanger.

It’s a completely unique episode in terms of the show and is unmissable for any fan. 10/10

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dishpan Man s5ep1

Co-starring: Sandy McPeak as Josh Curtis, David A. Hess as Ben Al Fraden, Fernando Escondo, Judith Leaford as Carla
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team are informed by a government agent that a man who could clear their name is on a plane that has been hijacked.

The gradual decline in quality that had blighted the fourth season caused a major slump in the show's ratings. Like many action series, The A-Team had a formula which was both its initial strength and its ultimate downfall. An attempt had been made to move away from the ‘small business threatened by large rival’ plotline in season four but in its place we got ill-fitting guest stars and drab scripts.

In an effort to save the show, the complete revamp that was considered unnecessary at the end of season three was now put into action. The result was a completely new slant on The A-Team, one in which the team became covert government operatives under the command of Hunt Stockwell (Robert Vaughan) and joined by special effects expert Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez).

It was certainly a controversial change and remains a hotly debated topic among fans of the show. Many categorically dismiss the fifth season as being something more akin to ‘Mission Impossible’ and a betrayal of the show’s blue collar origins. Personally, I never had a problem with season five as I wasn’t particularly impressed with season four. The scripts were, by and large, superior to the fourth season and the fact that the team were working for Stockwell never bothered me particularly.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Stockwell missions were yet to come. First off we have what is generally referred to as the ‘court-martial’ trilogy, a series of three excellent episodes which introduced the new scenario and characters. This first of the three is the most conventional by A-Team standards but is no weaker for it.

Although season five divides opinion among fans, what doesn’t divide them is the new funkier theme tune. Although messing with themes was often ill-advised (the ‘Quantum Leap’ remix was particularly misjudged), the new version with its driving drum introduction gives the opening of the show a strong, dynamic edge. Another change came in the form of dropping the pre-credits ‘trailer’ (which often gave away much of the plot) in preference of an opening scene that set the story, though not all episodes in the season made use of this.

As for this individual episode, it is Cannell’s best writing contribution to the show since ‘The Taxi Cab Wars’. Along with director Mordente, Cannell delivers a fast-paced and highly entertaining episode with great humour, clever situations and solid action sequences. In many ways, this is the show’s third ‘pilot’ after the season one opener and ‘Battle of Bel Air’ in season two.

The early scenes introduce Frankie’s character and I can’t say I’ve ever been keen on his wise-ass character. His constant remarks could be more than a little grating but he came across better in some episodes than others. After Hannibal is taken to meet Stockwell, the team decide to gamble on the opportunity to be free to be normal people (Face: “No offence Murdock”, Murdock: “none taken”).

The parachuting footage from ‘One More Time’ is recycled here, meaning Frankie is dressed up as Amy was in that episode, even though shots of her descent aren’t used! Murdock gets to use a mini-helicopter that he has been “packing with his underwear” and though it was obviously not flight-worthy in reality, it adds an interesting extra dimension to the episode.

The method for getting on the plane is undeniably clever, more so that in season one’s ‘Beast from the Belly of a Boeing’. Indeed, it’s surprising how many first season reminders there are here with similarities to ‘One More Time’, ‘Beast’ and the aerial vehicle build from ‘Holiday in the Hills’. It’s a credit to how well the whole episode is put together though that it never seems to be re-treading an old formula.

You might argue that Cannell didn’t need to introduce Frankie (he certainly marginalises BA’s technical role) but he is at least wise enough to make the best use of Murdock, who often did not fare too well in the Cannell-penned episodes. Generally speaking, any script that was good for Murdock was good for the show. Indeed, the whole cast are on excellent form here and the final cliffhanger is a real attention grabber. Overall, this very enjoyable episode represents exactly the injection of energy that the show needed at this point. 9/10

The Sound of Thunder s4ep23

Co-starring: Tia Carrere as Tia, Jack Ging as General Fulbright, George Kee Chung as Colonel Sien, Haunani Minn as Mi Lin
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

General Fulbright hires the team to travel to Vietnam to rescue Colonel Morrison, the one man who can clear the A-Team’s name.

At the end of a disappointing season, out-of-the-blue came one of the show's very best episodes. Like the season one finale ‘A Nice Place to Visit’ (also written by show co-creator Lupo), this story is much more serious in tone as the return to Vietnam brings back difficult memories for the team.

The war and its long-term effects had briefly been touched upon over the course of four seasons but never to this extent. At its heart, this is a well-written story, one which takes a number of interesting turns during its tightly-packed 45 minute running time. The episode is exceptionally well-performed by the cast, clearly relishing having a quality script to work from. There is also excellent support from Carrere and particularly Ging, whose General Fulbright character was very much the figure of fun in his previous episodes but here takes on an entirely different and much more effective role.

The silent opening gets the episode off to a somewhat unnerving start. This is far away from the show’s usual ‘comfort television’ approach and there are many little touches which add to the unsettling tone (such as a music score which sounds like rotating helicopter blades). The excellent set design also adds to the effectiveness of the episode, there being a real effort to create a feeling for the story’s Vietnam location.

The plot takes a number of intriguing turns and deals with some interesting issues without ever seeming heavy-handed. There are also lighter moments, such as when BA agrees to fly but ends up blanking out (Murdock: “He didn’t blank out, he was mildly catatonic”). The action is very much within context throughout and as such is highly effective, never more so than in a final set piece which has a scope and a scale that makes it one of the show’s best. Director O’Herlihy delivers a sense of realism that the show previously (and famously) side-stepped, extending to people being shot on camera for one of the few times in the show’s run.

The episode establishes the action credentials of Carrere’s character and the final scene suggests she will be joining the team, though this was not carried forward into the season five revamp. This season finale may well have been the show’s swansong in any case, as noted by Murdock’s “everything comes to an end” T-shirt.

The episode ends on a contemplative note as Hannibal and Murdock again ask questions of themselves and their ability to put the worst aspects of the war behind them. It is a genuinely affecting moment and demonstrates why this genuinely is one of the great A-Team episodes. It is an absolute must-see for fans and stands up alongside the very best of any TV show. 10/10

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Little Town with an Accent s4ep22

Co-starring: Noble Willingham as Zack, Robert Viharo as Sonny Marlini, Mark Lawrence as Sam Marlini, Kathryn Leigh Scott as Sheriff Annie Plummer, Joseph Burke as McMahon, Rex Ryan as Kelvin
Written by Thomas Szollosi, Richard C Matheson
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team help a man who is being pressurised into selling his gas station by the mob.

Almost representing something of a flashback, this penultimate entry in season four is the closest to the traditional A-Team plot than any other episode this season. The ‘rival having ulterior motives for wanting to buy small company’ plot was the staple diet of season three but was completely dropped at the beginning of four to move away from the standard plotline.

There’s a certain tiredness in the writing which means you’re unlikely to remember much that happens during the course of its 45 minutes, even if you’ve seen it before. Gangster episodes had been done before and done better. Murdock inevitably gets to pose as a mobster but these impressions were becoming rather familiar, even if ‘Trouble on Wheels’ was a season ago.

There’s a funny gag involving a villain wrapped in tape if you’re familiar with the James Cagney gangster classic ‘Public Enemy’ but there aren’t enough similarly clever moments to maintain the interest. This is one of the rare episodes to refer to a previous one as it includes the truck Murdock won on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ (and is very protective of).

As much as the A-Team formula contributed to some great episodes, this one demonstrates why the show needed a revamp in season five. The meet-the-client scene, construction montage, car flip are other familiar elements just weren’t enough any more if there was no attempt to try to be original. 5/10

The Trouble with Harry s4ep21

Co-starring: Hulk Hogan as Himself, Paul Gleason as Harry Sullivan, Billy Jacoby as Jeffrey Sullivan, William Perry as Himself, John Hancock as Styles, Carl Strano as Richie
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemmings

The team help a former boxer whose decision to take a dive many years before has come back to haunt him.

Although the presence of Hulk Hogan as guest star suggests this could be as bad as ‘Body Slam’, that thankfully isn’t the case. The Hulkster has much more of a background role this time rather than the episode being built around him. In fact, there really isn’t any reason for him to be around at all

The story divides the team into two groups with Hannibal, BA and the Hulkster doing most of the fighting against the villains threatening Harry (Gleason from ‘Fire’) and son Jeffrey (Jacoby from ‘The Out-of-Towners). As a grouping, they miss the humour provided by Face & Murdock, though BA does have a great line when he remarks, “we always go through the front door, I’m sick and tired of going through the front door”.

Elsewhere, Murdock and Face spend most of the episode captured and tied up. It works as a running gag and delivers some funny moments but is also rather restrictive given that they never escape for very long. Along the way, there’s a running gag about the two of them being late for the dinner with twins that they were about to attend when they were called upon by Hannibal to assist.

Despite some interesting story elements (including opening the episode with a black and white flashback), the story itself isn’t a grabber. There are a lot of confrontational scenes that never quite come to anything but the final battle is basically solid with Hulkster pitching grenades at the bad guys. Ultimately, it’s ok but also completely forgettable. 5/10

Mission of Peace s4ep20

Co-starring: David White as Rudy, Ann Doran as Nora, Jason Evers as Taggart, Nedra Volz as Babbette, Ric Mancini as Ashton, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Steven L Sears, Burt Pearl
Directed by Craig R Baxley

The team help a group of pensioners who run a historical mission that a gang wants to take over for its own reasons.

A reasonable but over-talky and somewhat silly episode, one based around the idea that the old people can con and fight as well as the team (albeit in their own way).

We get the first meet-the-client scene in a while and overall, there is something rather flat and old hat about the whole thing. There are some interesting plot elements, particularly one of the group of old folks wanting to tag along with Face and join in his scams. There’s more time spent with the clients here than in most episodes but the majority aren’t all that interesting so you do begin to wonder when things are going to pick up a little.

A chase sequence is thrown in at the halfway point, seemingly to ensure that the final fight is not the only action in the entire episode. Murdock’s Daniel Boone impression is enjoyable but rather over-used. It’s another episode that seems like a lower-grade season three leftover and the final confrontation (using a hose among other practical weapons) doesn’t offer anything original.

When you were little, you probably thought history was dull and this episode does little to make you want to visit your local library to learn more about the period. It may be better than season five’s ‘The Grey Team’ but that’s hardly a recommendation is it? 6/10

Beneath the Surface s4ep19

Co-starring: Paxton Whitehead as Morgan, Tom Villard as Barry Green, Kim Ulrich as Elaine, Nancy Everhard as Rebecca Piper, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Danny Lee Cole
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

At his high school reunion, a woman asks Face to track down her missing brother.

While not quite as polished an episode as ‘Duke’, this is still a solid entry in the fourth season. Matters get off to an excellent start as Face attends his orphanage reunion, intending to hook-up with a would-be old flame. Murdock is driving him, acting as chauffeur having “borrowed” his doctor’s limo. General Fulbright has laid a trap of course, so the team have to come to Face’s rescue. They do so to the accompaniment of the Animals’ classic sixties hit ‘We gotta get out of this place’ (with Hannibal disguised as a nun).

The rest of the episode never quite lives up to this start but it remains a good watch. What at first seems to be a missing person story soon turns into a treasure hunt, certainly something different for an A-Team episode. Many sea-faring staples are thrown in along the way, right down to the smart parrot and threat from sharks.

There’s a good running gag about Face thinking he had conned his old friend numerous times in the past but the friend actually came out better. The episode mostly takes place outdoors (which is certainly an asset) but some loose scripting means there seems to be a lot of milling around until the team set out to find the treasure.

The well-shot underwater scenes are certainly something different (accompanied by a suitably mysterious music score) and there’s a great moment when Murdock emerges from the water, relic in hand. The return of Fulbright adds to the action towards the end, though the final battle itself is one of the briefest in any episode.

Overall, it is very much a fun episode that remains light and enjoyable without getting as silly as some episodes did this season. And is it me or is the final scene a bit risqué by A-Team standards? 8/10

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Duke of Whispering Pines s4ep18

Co-starring: Sheila DeWindt as Deborah Duke, Jack Starrett as Wade, Michael Bowen as Rusty, Don Hood as Wells, Gary Grubbs as Sheriff Hopkins, Rick Fitts as Jason Duke
Written by Jayne C Ehrlich
Directed by Sidney Hayes

BA goes to his hometown to visit a former girlfriend whose husband has disappeared.

One of the best entries in an underwhelming season, this is the first episode to be written by a woman since ‘In Plane Sight’ way back in season two. It’s a good script as well, built around an intriguing plot that takes time to unravel but is always interesting as it does.

Although the opening third features only BA and Murdock, it works very well, recalling their previous teaming in the season three classic ‘Breakout’. Murdock gets to tease BA about his relationship with Deborah and also poses as a computer specialist with a heavy cold (assisted by BA who carries the computers and wants to know when they break for lunch).

After a run-in with the local police, BA and Murdock end up in jail and the story then takes a darker turn, culminating in a near-lynching that represents a rare moment of one of the team being in genuine jeopardy. Hannibal and Face then arrive and attempt to make their own progress, leaving Murdock to pursue the villain on a BMX and BA to talk to his old flame.

Credit certainly goes to writer Ehrlich for keeping the story interesting and for coming up with dialogue that doesn’t make BA’s relationship scenes as embarrassing as they have been in the past. Indeed, given how absent BA had been at times this season, this is one of his best episodes as he shoulders large parts of the plot and takes on more of the dialogue than just passing comments.

Although driven by character, the story also features some strong individual set-pieces beyond the usual fistfights, notably a chase sequence with Murdock on the aforementioned BMX. There may be a ‘Diamonds and Dust’ feel to the final third but given that the overall quality is up there with episodes from season two, it really doesn’t matter.

There are a couple of construction montages along the way (well, one construction, one de-construction) but they are very much plot-driven and the final battle is suitably explosive. With the cast all on good form, what this episode goes to prove is that the show wasn’t a lost cause by this point in season four, it was just that the writing wasn’t always as strong as it is here. 9/10

Waiting for Insane Wayne s4ep17

Co-starring: Barry Corbin as Kincaid, Jesse Vint as Insane Wayne, Moosie Drier as Bobby Sherman, Red West as Red, Anthony James as Three-Finger Harry, Gillian Grant as Julie
Written by Stephen J Cannell, Frank Lupo
Directed by Craig R Baxley

Murdock is mistaken for a crazed South American General which gets the team mixed up in a dispute over oil rights

A fair but forgettable episode, not really what you’d expect from the writing combination of show co-creators Cannell and Lupo. The opening is interesting, having the team roll into town and meet the villain when they are mistaken for the gang they will eventually fight. They manage to con Kincaid (well-played by Corbin, who may be familiar from his army role in ‘WarGames’) and break out with the gang’s fee.

Unfortunately, after hooking up with Bobby Sherman (the target for Kincaid’s gang), it becomes clear that this is going to be a rather straight-forward story. It all starts to feel like something of a throwback, resembling a weak entry in the third season that passes the time without being anything memorable. The various complications (trying to delay the arrival of the real gang, Bobby being in love with Kincaid’s stepdaughter) don’t spark much life into the episode as a whole

There’s a clever camera shot which tracks the team walking side-by-side as they discuss their next move but it only goes to show how flat the episode is when a camera move is one of the highlights. The plot isn’t light on incident but is light on variety as it basically just moves from one meeting with Kincaid to another. BA does get shot in the shoulder at one point, a rare example of a bullet making contact in an episode.

Director Baxley (who did second unit action on the show before graduating to main director) knows how to stage a good battle sequence and does so at the finale but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Overall, this isn’t a terrible episode by any means but it is one that feels like you’ve seen it before, even if you haven’t. 5/10

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cowboy George s4ep16

Co-starring: Boy George as himself, L.Q. Jones as Chuck Danford, Taylor Lacher as Miller, Ben Lack as Herm, Jim Boeke as Butch
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Tony Mordente

Face books a country and western singer Cowboy George for an Arizona gig but his plans are scuppered when Boy George turns up instead.

If ‘Curtain Call’ (the one where Murdock is shot) is the most famous A-Team episode, then this is the most infamous. Celebrity appearances came thick and fast in season four but none were quite as incongruous as the appearance here by British pop star Boy George.

Quite how the A-Team and Culture Club (incorrectly referred to as ‘The Culture Club’ by Face) were thought to be compatible is anyone’s guess. If you’re going to have pop stars on the show, at least choose ones that fit the audience demographic. Huey Lewis and the News anyone?

As with the Hulk Hogan episodes, the main entertainment value here comes from the squirming embarrassment you feel for all involved. Boy George can’t even play himself convincingly and comes close to fluffing his lines at various points. The attempts at camaraderie between BA and Boy George are particularly excruciating.

Elsewhere, Hannibal poses as Cowboy George and Murdock gets a Lennon Sisters song stuck in his head (not particularly amusing). Murdock then poses as a DJ to promote Face’s concert but simply plays the same Lennon Sisters track over and over again as the infuriated station owner tries to break into the studio (more amusing).

At the concert, Boy George begins performing to a hostile redneck crowd who come to enjoy the song, a scene far more ridiculous than any in which hundreds of rounds are fired without anyone every being shot. Part of the way through the song, the episode starts intercutting between the performance and an action scene but the two don’t mix at all. Matters then grind to a complete halt for another song and you begin to wonder how the episode ever made it past the ideas stage.

Away from Boy George, things don't improve much. Murdock appears in drag towards the end, which is admittedly funny but also a sign of very lazy writing. The final action scene isn’t actually that bad but still doesn’t generate much excitement and there’s yet another song to sit through before the end credits.

There is an inevitable curiosity value at work here but it’s not an episode most fans would want to watch very often, if ever again. The fact that it comes from the pen of series co-creator Stephen J Cannell is particularly surprising. Was he over-ruled by the network or was he a Boy George fan? Whatever the reasons, the result is all fairly hopeless, the answer to a question no-one asked. 4/10

Members Only s4ep15

Co-starring: Kevin McCarthy as Bob McKeever, Carole Cook as Mrs Prescott, Betsy Russell as Adrian Prescott, Barrie Ingham as Chuck LeGraw, Scott Colomby as Frank, Shecky Greene as himself, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Tony Mordente

Face takes Hannibal to the country club he has just joined where they meet Murdock and help a caddy who is being chased by crooks.

For me, this is another not-very-good entry into season four. It's not bad by any means but I still don’t rate Nuss as a writer, even though some of his episodes (There Goes the Neighbourhood, Wheel of Fortune) are among the better ones in the season.

There are many disparate elements at work here and it doesn’t quite add up to a cohesive whole. As with most Nuss episodes, the tone is very lightweight which makes it a pleasant timefiller if you’re in the mood but for me, there’s definitely something lacking.

One thing that is certainly lacking is BA, who once again appears only sporadically here. Missing from the early stages, BA suddenly appears without any explanation as to where he’s been. Then, apart from being in the background during the golf sequence, he disappears again and it’s only when he turns up at the end that you realise how AWOL he’s been.

So it’s left to the other three team members to carry the episode and this they do reasonably well. Face is mainly required to look exasperated as his country club ideal is lost among a series of chases, fights and unfortunate incidents. For his club alias, Face uses the name Ashley Hemmings, a combination of A-Team producer John Ashley and regular season director David Hemmings.

Among the highlights is a chase in golf buggies, possible the slowest vehicle-based action sequence in A-Team history. It does mean that Murdock can do some of his own driving and Face can hang on the back, credit to the crew as well for managing to flip a golf buggy.

The humour is rather hit and miss, mainly comprising of embarrassing Face and humiliating General Fulbright (who happens to be a member). It all gradually gets a bit too silly, exemplified by the scene in which Hannibal plays a round of golf against villain McKeever using remote-controlled golf balls (complete with ‘amusing’ sound effect).

All manner of things are clumsily and seemingly randomly thrown into the mix. Shecky Greene appears as himself towards the end, after-dinner speaking at the club in a couple of scenes which add nothing but length.

Perhaps I am being a bit hard on an episode that tries so hard to be good-natured. It is entertaining enough for sure but for me, there’s a general clumsiness that stops it being anything more than par for the course (!) 7/10

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The A-Team is Coming The A-Team is Coming s4ep14

Co-starring: William Smith as Dimitri Shastovich, Gene Scherer as Mikhail Padavich, John Considine as Leon, Daryl Anderson as Bertka, David Kagen as Willis, Curt Lowens as Ambassador, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Steve Beers
Directed by David Hemmings

The A-Team are asked to help stop the theft of a American laser weapon by a renegade Russian Colonel intent on starting World War Three.

Series creator Cannell was often accused of writing over-talky scripts which were heavy on pace and light on action. However, none of Cannell’s episodes were as lethargic or had as much clumsy exposition as this woefully drab entry into season four. Writer Beers had been associate producer on the show since the middle of season three but this was his only script. He should have stuck to his day job (though he didn’t get the chance as this was the last episode he was involved with).

Matters actually get off to a fairly bright start as the Team help a Russian ballet dancer defect (or so they think). Face does a Bond-style quick change and there’s a good chase sequence as the team escape from the theatre. Curiously, BA doesn’t seem to have been present for the shooting of the early stages. He doesn’t appear at all in the ballet breakout and then in the subsequent hotel scene, he appears only in a couple of inserts with his double standing in for a few back-of-head shots.

It’s all downhill from here as the Murdock poses as an out-of-control glider pilot so the team can gain access to the Russian embassy. Once they’re on the inside, absolutely nothing of interest happens at all. It happens slowly as well. Even Murdock is very subdued in an episode that is pretty much humour-free.

Yet another building infiltration soon follows with Face and Murdock gaining access on the pretence of a gas leak. We get a bit of gunplay and BA and Hannibal jumping through a skylight but then we move on again. At this rate, it doesn’t take long to not care who is involved with what and why. The episode is typified by a couple of scenes in which characters explain a lot of uninteresting background information while driving in cars

A ticking clock is used to countdown the time remaining until, er, something and though the trick may have worked in ‘Battle of Bel Air’, nothing can help the lethargic pace here. Given that the episode is built around the possible outbreak of World War three, it should be filled with tension rather than tedium.

The final battle is decent enough but it’s hardly worth sitting through the rest of the episode for a few explosions. Just as you start to feel relieved that it’s all over, another story thread begins but at least there isn’t much time left conclude matters. It all adds up to another season four dud, proving that it didn’t take the presence of guest stars to produce some real dross. 4/10

Wheel of Fortune s4ep13

co-starring: Lydia Corneill as Jody Joy, George McDaniel as Joshua, Judd Omen as Lazarus, Richard Evans as Jack Stein, Bermie Pock as Jeremy Woods
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemings

Murdock is kidnapped by a group of men who claim to be CIA agents and want him to be their pilot on a dangerous mission.

My recollection of this episode was of it being one of the better entries in the season and while it is a good one, this time it seemed more of a weaker retread of ‘Bounty’. The basic structure is the same as it moves between the kidnap of Murdock, the team in pursuit and Murdock befriending a young woman to aid his escape.

The episode is bookended with Murdock appearing on the ‘Wheel of Fortune” TV show, hosted by Pat Sajak with Vanna White turning the letters. It’s probably the only time in the whole season that having real life people play themselves didn’t ruin an episode. On his first visit, Murdock spends his winnings on a humidor for Hannibal, a year’s supply of car wax for BA and a waterbed for Face.

Like Face in ‘Breakout’, Hannibal appears in this episode only on the phone. Unlike ‘Breakout’ though, having the team split up doesn’t come off very well as Face and BA aren’t a natural team and they actually don’t appear all that frequently until towards the end. Early on, Face is cornered and captured as he goes out looking for Murdock, meaning BA has to smash through a shop window to rescue him. After this though, Face and BA disappear into the background as the episode focuses on Murdock.

The key relationship in the episode is between Murdock and would-be Vegas showgirl Jody Joy and while it isn’t as genuinely affecting as the one in ‘Bounty’, it’s still responsible for much of the episode’s energy. Cornell is bright and bubbly and good eye candy. She seems to be enjoying herself as well. Maybe appearing in an A-Team episode was the most exciting thing that ever happened to her?!

There’s an uneven structure at work here which means Jody doesn’t appear until the final third, around the same time that BA and Face arrive on the scene. Without much time left, the end comes rather too quickly and conveniently, particularly given the way that Face and BA are cornered late on.

Still, there is much to enjoy here in what is one of writer Nuss’ better episodes. The pacing is generally fine and the action is well-delivered and while it may be a paler version of ‘Bounty’, any episode that puts Murdock centre stage can’t be all bad. 7/10

Friday, 4 March 2011

Uncle Buckle-up s4ep12

co-starring: Arte Johnson as Uncle Buckle-Up, Jonathan Goldsmith as Preston, Susan Scannell as Kelly, Bruce Solomon, Art Metrano as Nick Gretsch
Written by Danny Lee Cole
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team come to the assistance of a children’s TV star when the company who makes the merchandise for his show threatens him.

Although The A-Team was a popular show with children, it generally avoided stories that involved children or were in any way childish. Having children in minor roles was never too bad but this episode took a wrong turn by focussing its attention on an invented kids TV character.

The whole thing is a bit embarrassing really and often as irritating as the overly cute ‘Uncle Buckle-Up’ theme music that plays throughout. Uncle Buckle-Up himself is a rather annoying character and Metrano makes for a very one-dimensional villain.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out why someone is so interested in distributing cuddly toys. The various subplots (Hannibal auditioning for a supporting role on the show, Face romancing Uncle Buckle-Up’s daughter) don’t spark much interest either. Even Murdock isn’t particularly entertaining in this one.

After fifteen minutes of relative tedium, a well-filmed chase and fight sequence comes as a welcome relief. The episode still fails to burst into life though and continues to struggle along until the team is inevitably captured and locked in a warehouse full of toys. There they have to improvise a final battle using toy planes and fire crackers, not terrible by any means but all a little obvious.

One to test your devotion to the show, this is best avoided. 3/10

The Doctor is Out s4ep11

Co-starring: Jeanetta Arnette as Betty, Geoffrey Lewis as Colonel Stoddard, Daniel Davis as Phillips, Richard Anderson as Dr Richter, Danny Mora as Shelton
Written by Richard C Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by David Hemmings

The team travel to South America to rescue Murdock’s psychiatrist after he is kidnapped.

Actually quite a reasonable episode by season four standards, this is an enjoyably plot-driven tale with a good mix of story and action. Things get off to a bit of a slow start but once the pursuit of Murdock’s shrink gets properly underway, the sense of pace and twisting storyline carry it through.

The increase in quality is down to the return of the writing team of Matheson and Szollosi, who were responsible for a number of strong episodes in earlier seasons (Say It With Bullets, Deadly Manuevers). Of course, a good script requires the cast to rise to the occasion and this they do, such as in the great scene in which Murdock poses as a scoutmaster who has captured Face.

There’s actually a lot of plot to get through in 45 minutes, in particular the continued question marks over the motives of Betty (well-played in support by Arnette). The character switches sides throughout which means a healthy dose of intrigue, something the episode needs as the reason for the doctor’s kidnap is not all that interesting.

The plot is rather ABC in the second half, basically following a fight, capture, escape, fight, capture, escape structure. Still, the action is solid, particularly in a final set piece that is among the best of the season. It may not reach the heights of Matheson/Szollosi’s very best episodes but as season four goes, it’s a welcome cut above. 7.5/10

There Goes the Neighbourhood s4ep10

Co-starring: Walter Olkewicz as Joe Skrylow, John Aprea as Woody Stone, Valerie Stevenson as Stevi Faith, Victor Campos as Juarez, Julius Carry III as Sergeant Moore, Robert Pastorelli as disgruntled neighbour
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Dennis Donnelly

The team is hired to protect a pop star who has been targeted after announcing a charity gig for a country at war with its neighbour.

Although you may fear the worst when this episode opens with a pop music number, this is thankfully not as weak as the other music-related episodes this season. The intention here was just to deliver a light, entertaining story and to at least some degree it does succeed.

Writer Nuss wasn’t exactly one of the show’s best writers but he does ok with his script for this one. It is, in all honesty, a one-joke episode but at least it’s a funny joke. In order to protect singer Stevi Faith, the team have to rent a house and hide out in a suburban neighbourhood. So, most of the humour comes from the team trying to adjust to normal life. They all wear dressing gowns, BA smashes his alarm clock and Murdock cooks pancakes for breakfast.

Given the show’s tendency to cast pop stars this season, it seems odd that a real-life pop star wasn’t cast as the singer the team are asked to protect. Apart from the early stages, the main plot of the threat against her actually only becomes the focus of the episode in the last fifteen minutes.

The rest of the time is spent with the team dealing with a group of bikers who have moved into the house down the road. There are some good moments here, such as Murdock shouting “everybody back!” as BA prepares to face off against the gang. Otherwise, it all looks a little like filler, as if Nuss wasn’t able to develop his main story, so threw in a separate biker/drugs subplot.

One of the team’s new neighbours just happens to own a non-operational tank, so you just know we’re heading for a repair montage followed by an explosive battle. And so it transpires, delivering a reasonable conclusion to an episode that passes the time well but remains very mediocre all the same. 6/10

Mind Games s4ep9

Co-starring: David Hedison as David Vaughan, Shelagh McLeod as E G Fowler, James Hong as Chow, Barney McFadden as Pell, Jack Ging as General Fulbright
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

Face is given a pardon for his involvement in the robbery for which the A-Team are wanted but is it a military set-up?

Series co-creator Cannell was certainly busy in season four. This is the third episode he wrote within the first eight shows and he would go on to write two more, including the infamous ‘Cowboy George’. Unless you have a soft spot for Boy George, this is the best of the five. Very much plot-driven, this is as talky as most of Cannell’s contributions to the series but there is a lot of mileage in the intrigue surrounding the reason for Face’s pardon.

For a Cannell episode, the action actually comes at regular enough intervals with a chase around the halfway point and a strong finale, even though the jetpack used by Murdock is written into the episode in a very clumsy manner.

Cannell’s episodes often had little or weak humour but that certainly isn’t the case here. There’s some great comedy as Murdock attempts to take over Face’s role within the team. He dons a suit and wig and sits in Face’s spot in the van, trying and failing to charm any woman he comes across.

It’s good to see Hedison (who played Felix Leiter in the Bond films ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Licence to Kill’) in the supporting cast, adding a bit more gravitas than the usual rent-a-villain. Indeed, there is something about this episode that projects an air of quality that was sadly missing for too much of season four.

The episode introduces the character of General Fulbright played by Jack Ging, an actor who previously hired the team in season one’s ‘A Small and Deadly War’ and fought against them in season two’s ‘Bad Time on the Border’. Seemingly just another not-quite-as good replacement for Decker, Fulbright would fulfil the standard chase role for four further episodes before taking on a much more interesting dimension in the season finale, ‘The Sound of Thunder’.

As with most of Cannell’s scripts, there are issues with pacing and a slack middle section but these are less of an issue for an episode in which the battle is as much psychological as it is action-based. As a story, it certainly holds the attention and is wrapped up with one of the funniest final gags in any episode. 9/10

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Blood, Sweat and Cheers s4ep8

Co-starring: Stuart Whitman as Jack Harmon, Wings Hauser as Kyle Ludwig, Ken Olandt as Kid Harmon, Toni Hudson as Dana Harmon, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane
Written by Tom Bolmquist
Directed by Sidney Hayes

The team help a friend who is being bullied by a rival on the car racing circuit.

A reasonable but unremarkable entry in the fourth season, a step up from the last two episodes but still weaker then the average in previous seasons. For a story based around car racing, it isn’t actually all that exciting and tends to plod along without ever quite sparking into life.

It’s a shame in many ways as Whitman was one of the show’s better guest actors and although he isn’t exactly wasted, the script could certainly have served him better. Whitman’s scenes do work well though and his character’s rivalry with Hannibal is one of the stronger parts of a rather weak episode. Hauser was always good value as a guest star in any TV show but his role is less interesting here than in his previous A-Team villain appearance in season three’s ‘The Big Squeeze’.

To brighten things up, Murdock has to pose as an Italian racing team owner, complete with curly wig and only one English phrase, “hello, how are you?” This means he has to speak in a series of strange Italian phrases that are subtitled for our relative amusement.

As in the previous episode, things pick up to a degree with the arrival of Decker (here appearing in his last episode until his brief cameo in season five’s ‘Trial by Fire’). He doesn’t actually have a great deal to do though and it’s hardly surprising this is a below average episode if the writer even fluffs Decker’s role. At least Murdock’s method of springing the team shows more originality than just donning a military uniform as he did in ‘Body Slam’.

There’s no sense in which this is a genuinely bad episode but like much of season four, it certainly seems to be lacking something. You can roughly divide season four into the strong eight, the middling eight and the dreadful eight. This one has mediocre written all over it. 6/10

Body Slam s4ep7

Co-starring: Hulk Hogan as Himself, Titos Vandis as Papa Kotero, Deborah Wakeham as Dicki Gordon, Michael Gregory as Sonny Carter, Sam Melville as Rocco, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by Craig R Baxley

Hulk Hogan asks the team to help save a youth centre from closure.

This is one of the infamously bad episodes of the show’s entire run and it’s easy to see why. It was another guest star episode, the first of two to feature WWF wrestler Hulk Hogan. For the most part, the only entertainment value to be had is from witnessing the whole car-crash dreadfulness of it all.

The episode is built around the teaming of BA and the Hulkster and it isn’t long before they are in pursuit of the bad guys, leaving the rest of the team behind. The first half of the episode actually looks suspiciously like a try-out for a spin-off series with Hannibal, Face and Murdock reduced to making cameo appearances in their own show. It’s not strong on credibility either, as demonstrated by the early scene in which BA and the Hulkster discuss their Vietnam experience. ‘The Sound of Thunder’ it certainly isn’t!

An early chase scene (featuring two van jumps) is actually a pretty good set piece but belongs in a better episode. The plot is only touched upon in a series of badly written and exposition-heavy scenes that aren’t worth trying to follow. The villains are dull and one-dimensional and it quickly becomes very difficult to keep watching. Of course, Hogan fans are well catered for and he gets three fight scenes to demonstrate his unique skills, two in the ring and one in a warehouse to the almost-tune of ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Truth be told, it actually gets slightly better in the second half with the arrival of Decker and the sidelining of Hogan. The team are captured and Murdock has to pose as a high-ranking military official to get them out. To their credit, Benedict and Schultz do try to get into the spirit of things but Peppard can hardly disguise his contempt for what is, by and large, a complete shambles. Indeed Peppard and Schultz aren’t even in the closing scene, maybe they walked off the set in protest? Probably not but you could hardly blame them if they did. 3/10

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll s4ep6

Co-starring: Issac Hayes as CJ Mack, Rick James as Himself, Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Gravedigger, James Avery, Eileen Barnett as Devon Paige, Peter Haskell as Warden Crichton
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Tony Mordente

The team help an ex-convict who is under threat because of his knowledge of a robbery gang operating from inside the prison.

The ratings for the A-Team gradually declined during the course of season three, not enough to warrant cancelling the show but enough to give the network some cause for concern. A revamp the likes of which we got in season five was deemed unnecessary but as is often the case on struggling TV shows, the decision was made to try to boost ratings by using guest stars playing themselves.

This episode is the first of four this season to feature a guest star appearing as himself and is certainly not something of which writer and show co-creator Lupo should be proud. The story is an afterthought here, something that passes the time between the musical numbers that take up more than a third of the running time. Admittedly, ‘Superfreak’ is a great song but I’d prefer a proper plot to a series of mimed music performances.

In a largely forgettable episode, the one notable scene has Hannibal posing as an elderly shop owner to provoke a robbery for reasons that aren’t worth going into. The gang of robbers are understandably caught out by Murdock hiding in the safe and Hannibal’s walking stick gun.

We move inside the prison in the second half but this has none of the invention of the season one classic ‘Pros and Cons’. Whatever intrigue there may have been in the initial plot completely dissipates and the appeal of the episode ultimately hangs on how you feel about the music. If you’re not keen, then the one-dimensional story is not going to hold your attention and is hardly touched upon in the predominantly musical second half.

If you like the music you may be more forgiving but for me, this was the A-Team’s emptiest outing to date. If it was a blip you could write it off to network interference but there were too many episodes as bad as this one in what was the show's weakest season. 3/10

The Road to Hope s3ep5

Co-starring: Elisha Cook as Jim Beam, Warren Berlinger as E. Robert Colton, Christopher Neame as Jack Scarett, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by David Hemmings

Hannibal poses as a wino to check whether a potential client is a Decker plant and is abducted by a gang.

I was never a particular fan of most of the episodes written by Cannell. They tended to be slower-paced and overly talky affairs, mainly taking place indoors with action scenes thrown in at random intervals. He did come good from time to time though and this is one of his better scripts, delivering an episode that gets out and about and properly integrates the action into the plot.

In season four, there was a deliberate move away from the ‘small business pressurised by larger rival’ story that was used so frequently in season three. Cannell seems to be trying to create a new standard structure here though, as the plot is very similar to season four’s third episode ‘Where is the Monster When You Need Him’. So once again, after the initial scene setting, we have Decker attempting to capture Hannibal, a slow-burn reveal of the story and a capture/battle final third.

To Cannell’s credit, this is a much better episode than ‘Monster’, one that is tightly scripted and consistently holds the attention. Humour plays a big part in its success, almost all of which comes from Murdock. He is convinced he can make himself invisible, something which gives an amusing edge to the opening exposition scene. There’s great dialogue as well, notably when Murdock remarks of their accidental wino rescue “but besides saving the wrong guy, we were magnificent!”

The action set pieces are also something of a cut above, most notably the infiltration of and escape from Colton’s gated estate. Murdock posing as a preacher is familiar from an earlier Cannell episode (The Big Squeeze) but it does lead to some funny moments. Looking on his congregation of homeless winos, Murdock remarks “it makes we wonder where all the female bums are”.

The episode maintains a strong pace throughout and after a classic motivational speech from Murdock, we are treated to a well-directed action finale. It all adds up to another above average entry in season four. 8/10

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lease with an Option to Die s4ep4

Co-starring: Ray Wise as Philip Chadway, Brion James as David Plout, Ismael Carlo as Alvarez, Wendy Schaal as Karen, Della Reese as Mrs Baracus
Written by Bill Nuss
Directed by David Hemmings

The team travel to Chicago to help BA’s mother who is being forced out of her apartment building.

One of the best episodes of the season, this marked an auspicious writing debut for Nuss who would go on to write nine further episodes and would be story eidtor in season five. Some of his episodes were very good (Wheel of Fortune, Alive at Five) and some not so good (Body Slam, The Crystal Skull). What singles this one out is a strong story, a nice line in humour and the great embarrassment it causes BA. As you might expect, BA’s mom is one of the few people able to get the better of him. It’s a great source of comedy as BA has told her he is the leader of the A-Team and particularly given that his mom’s pet name for him is ‘Scooter’.

Reese makes the most of her role as Mrs Baracus and the episode gives the chance for Mr T to have proper dialogue for a change rather than just passing comments and moments of aggravation. There’s a strong supporting cast as well with Schaal as one of the building tenants, Wise as the villain of the piece, regular Hollywood bad guy James as his chief henchman and Carlo (appearing in his fourth A-Team episode) as the building superintendent.

The comedy doesn’t entirely come at BA’s expense. Hannibal dons one of his best ever disguises as a little old lady who, together with goofball son Murdock, sublets Mrs Baracus’ apartment. This leads to one of the best ever meeting-villain-in-his-office scenes as Hannibal’s grandma tires of negotiations and pulls out an uzi.

The action mainly comes in the form of threats to the safety of the building and its tenants but works very well all the same. The reason that Wise wants the apartment is rather obvious and so the interest level does drop a little in the second half as the plot wanders off in all kinds of directions but this is still one of the strongest entries in season four. 8.5/10

Where is the Monster When You Need Him? s4ep3

Co-starring: Michael Lerner as Jerry, Dennis Cole as Charles Lake, Lance Le Gault as Colonel Decker, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, Walter Gotell as Ramon DeJarro, Judy Landers as Jennifer O’Hannorhan
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Michael O’Herlihy

The team join Hannibal on his latest film shoot but find themselves up against a war criminal in hiding.

A watchable but rather empty episode from the pen of co-creator Cannell, one that gets off to a strong start but doesn’t live up to its initial promise. The opening in question is a car chase in the streets of LA as Decker pursues Hannibal to the tune of ‘Trouble on Wheels’. Is it me, though, or does the car look like it’s coming to a halt as soon as it hits the ramp?

What this episode mainly demonstrates is how possible it is to pad out 40 minutes of running time (45 less intro & opening and closing credits). Not a great deal actually happens here in terms of plot. A lot often seems to be about to happen but just as the story looks like it is about to get going, you realise it is actually winding down to a familiar capture/fight conclusion.

Hannibal and his film crew are met with a hostile reception on arrival on location but it takes too long to find out why and in the meantime, there’s too much milling around. There are individually clever moments, most notably when the team fool the local mercenary (terrible accent, by the way) into thinking they have real guns when all they actually have is props and squibs.

Face has to take over as leading man when the real star bolts and Murdock (mainly in the background here) gets a good speech as he reveals his stuntman alter-ego, ‘Tommy Danger’. Decker makes a re-appearance in the closing stages, though by this stage the way he doesn't think to check if the old guy in front of him is Hannibal when he has checked others before makes it all rather silly. One to file under initially intriguing but ultimately uninspiring. 6.5/10

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Judgement Day s4ep1 & 2

Co-Starring: June Chadwick as Carla, Christine Claridge, Michael Delano as Johnny Angel, Dana Elcar as Judge Mordente, Carl Franklin as Captain Crane, LaGena Hart as Lori, Lance LeGault as Colonel Decker, Robert Miranda as Joe Scarlett, Zack Norman as Gino

The team are called in by a judge whose daughter has been kidnapped by the mobster whose trial he is presiding over.

Season four gets underway with a double episode that ranks as the all-time favourite among a number of fans. For at least part of the ninety-minute running time, it is easy to see why this is the case. With the possible exception of season two’s double episode ‘When You Comin’ Back Range Rider?’, this is the most action-driven A-Team episode of all and packs a series of highly impressive set pieces into its first fifty minutes.

After a courtroom scene setting up the plot, the action quickly gets underway as the mobster’s gang abducts the judge’s daughter by helicopter while she is riding a jetski. It’s a sequence worthy of gracing any Hollywood feature film and acts as a calling card for an episode that boasts stuntwork which is second to none. Moving quickly on, we have what seems to be a standard meet-the-client scene as Hannibal gets the lowdown from the judge while posing as a window cleaner on a high-rise building. However, Decker soon arrives on the scene, forcing Hannibal to parachute off the building to escape capture in what is another excellent stunt.

We get a chance to grab our breath at this point as the plot takes a firmer hold as the team kidnap the man responsible for the daughter’s kidnap and hold him hostage while Hannibal takes his place. Peppard plays both roles here and does it well, particularly when you compare it to something as woeful as David Hasselhoff playing the evil Garth in ‘Knight Rider’. Inevitably, Hannibal has to duke it out with his double when the plan goes awry but as predictable as such a scene is, it all adds to the fun.

The first half of the episode does mainly belong to Hannibal and the rest of the cast actually appear only sporadically. Murdock has a good scene in which he tries to break himself out of the VA hospital without Face’s help but it doesn’t go quite according to plan. Murdock then suddenly appears (somewhat confusingly) at what turns out to be the judge’s house where he is posing as an oddball butler. This scene is the first example of editing issues that crop up frequently across the course of the double episode.

Face doesn’t have a great deal to do in the first half of this episode but certainly has more to do than BA who only makes brief appearances and gets the sum total of two lines in the first forty minutes. The team come to Hannibal’s rescue once his cover is blown, leading to another strong action set-piece as the team attempt to get the judge’s daughter back and have to evade Decker who turns up halfway through the firefight.

You certainly can’t accuse this episode of being slow-paced as within an instant we’re in Italy, where the judge’s daughter has been taken. Once this has been established, it’s back to the action again as the team get involved in another fight to get her back. Benedict certainly gets stuck in during a good moment in which he attempts to karate chop a henchman, only to end up being hit and falling backwards down a hill. A vehicle chase sequence complete with exploding petrol cans follows, culminating in one of the great A-Team explosions that makes you wonder exactly how big the budget of this episode was.

So far, so breathless and certainly a feast for action fans. There isn’t a great deal of plot here and certainly one criticism of the episode is that there is hardly any story at all. The judge disappears from the episode shortly after he’s hired the team and the mobster on trial only crops up once more. Kidnap stories formed the basis for a number of A-Team episodes (Harder Than It Looks, Moving Targets, The Doctor is Out, The Say Uncle Affair) but all of them have more story in forty-five minutes than we get here in ninety.

The lack of story wouldn’t be an issue if the entertainment value didn’t start to collapse around the hour mark. The team are forced to go back to the US via cruise liner, leading to a series of uninspired scenes on deck and in cabins. Benedict takes centre stage here and the scenes that do work well are mainly down to him. Face poses as the assistant to the ship’s doctor and inevitably smooth talks the attractive cruise director and finds himself in a compromising position with a female passenger. Incidentally, that is the episode’s director David Hemmings playing the role of the doctor.

The episode loses all sense of purpose as the team just mill around and uninteresting supporting characters (particularly singer Johnny Angel) are given more screen time than members of the team. BA only appears on deck in one scene, though this may be because Mr T “walked” off the ocean liner during shooting (he left via helicopter). He did eventually return (presumably to shoot that one scene) but his absence does partly explain the choppy nature of the second half.

Continuity errors don’t exactly help matters, such as when an establishing shot shows the liner far out at sea but the deck scene that follows has islands and other boats in the background. The original plot (the judge’s daughter was kidnapped, remember?) becomes an afterthought and although the episode closes with another well-staged action sequence, the last half hour is something of a mess.

Quite where it all went wrong, we can only speculate. Perhaps the cruise liner sequence had to be rapidly rewritten in Mr T’s absence? Perhaps the crediting of three editors suggests a rushed post-production process? A rewrite may have been the first step as too much happens too quickly in the first half and then not much happens at all in the second. In any case, it’s still worth seeing but doesn’t end up being the absolute series classic it seems to be early on.

First 50 minutes 9/10, second 40 minutes 6/10